Which way to go?

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Catch of the Day: GOP Moderates in Disguise

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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A Catch to Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly for this observation:

Despite having somewhere between 15 to 18 candidates, and no clear front-runners, which means the smallest niches could vault someone into the top tier or near it, not a single one of them, so far at least, has tried the “different kind of Republican” approach so famously modeled for them by Bill Clinton… So for the most part all 15 to 18 candidates are competing to show who is the “true conservative” of the bunch.

Yup. Even those who are moderates by the standards of the GOP crowd aren’t running that way. Chris Christie’s sales pitch isn’t that he’s a competent governor of a populous, politically challenging state; it’s that he’s the one who yells at people. This isn't new. Rudolph Giuliani in 2008 wasn't running on his moderate positions, but on his reputation for toughness and on his supposedly unique national-security experience.  

Kilgore casts the lack of anyone running as a moderate as “the shadow of Huntsman '12" -- referring to what candidates learned from the experience of Jon Huntsman, the centrist Republican in the 2008 race. Even though plenty of Republican voters are moderates, they can't spark the boomlet needed for a candidate to break out of the pack to get the nomination.

While politicians' behavior can be tied to what they’ve learned from earlier campaigns, I think the lack of "different kind of Republicans" has a more institutional explanation. Even moderate Republican voters -- or at least those who are involved enough to be likely voters in presidential primaries -- are likely to get much of their political information from Republican-aligned sources such as Fox News. And the way to be featured on Fox News isn’t by hewing to the middle.

So even if a moderate niche is theoretically available in the Republican Party (and to get into the first debate, remember, we’re only talking about achieving high single digits in national polls), a candidate may have no way to fill that role, given the way information moves within the party's ranks.

Bottom line: Each of the umpteen Republicans is running to be the True Conservative. Nice Catch!

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net